I frequent the sort of coffee place where everyone sits at the same spot each day. I recognize the faces; the barista starts my “usual” unless I request something different. The long communal table in the center is held down by a group discussing the latest happenings at church more often than not. Today they confidently broke down the election. Every comment centered around Hillary and what would have become of the country. How she would have destroyed the economy; the need for her to go to jail; the conspiracy theory that President Obama would pardon her for things she hasn’t even been indicted for before he leaves office. On and on with Hillary and Hillary. Winning wasn’t enough or even really the point: they wanted her ground into the dust.
I realized in that moment Trump meant nothing to them except as the blunt instrument to beat back the tide . . . of what exactly? For over thirty years evangelicals and other disaffected whites have been told that anyone that doesn’t look and think the same presents not a simple difference to understand but a threat to destroy. And the culmination of their rising anger had produced a candidate that contradicted everything they claimed to believe except their rage.
* * *
In the absence of our archaic electoral college or a few votes in a handful of states, I would have been having the same conversation except about Trump. The disaster we had avoided. Our need to punish those in the GOP that had supported him. The hypocrisy of it all. Hillary meant nothing to me either; I hadn’t given her any real thought in months except as the blunt instrument to beat back the tide . . . of what exactly? I used to live deep within that evangelical world until the anger pushed me away, and now I had returned as a mirror image fueled by the same unhappiness I had tried so desperately to escape. I had been mourning the loss of some idea of America when I should have been mourning the loss of my identity in the machinery of hate.
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In 1856, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was nearly beaten to death on the floor of the Senate by Preston Brooks of South Carolina over an anti-slavery speech Sumner had delivered. So we’ve been this angry before. We know how to do rancor. But this time we don’t seem to quite understand what we’re so angry about or we’re angry about the right things for the wrong reasons or we’re angry about what might happen or we’re angry about what happened long ago. And we’ve come to cling to that anger for its own sake, long after the spark that ignited it has been tamped and forgotten. Institutions have come to believe that only anger can motivate their audience and we have come to believe only anger signifies the authenticity of our cause. And we have all been imprisoned inside the walls of our beloved discontent.
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Camus said that in an unfree world living a free existence is the ultimate rebellion. Nothing defines that unfree state like anger and hatred because you are never choosing, only reacting to the dictates and prejudices of others, bowing to the demands of a monster that feeds on the enslavement of your passions. I am embarrassed I traded my freedom for an illusory sense of superiority and self-righteousness, but I think it’s time to rebel and reclaim that freedom.
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So I’m done; I’m tapping out. Meeting your anger with more anger will destroy both of us, so I am walking away. I am seeking the spaces and people that bring me joy and dwelling there. I am going to stop reacting indignantly to the thoughts and behavior of others and begin to act in ways that bring meaning to my life and hopefully enriches the lives of others. I am going to work to stop talking about the things that are wrong and start actually doing the things that are right. I am going to be free again. Please join me.